| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
THE BATTLE OF STAMFORD BRIDGE
 MEANWHILE Harold was ruling England quietly and well. The
people loved him, and were glad they had chosen such a brave
and generous man to rule over them. Harold was kind to every
one, but he was specially kind to Edgar Ætheling. He knew
that it would have been a very bad thing for England had the
people chosen an ignorant little boy as king. Yet he felt
sorry for Edgar, and tried to make him grow into a brave and
honest English boy.
Harold kept the good laws which had been made before the
time of Edward, and altered the unjust ones. He was always
thinking of the happiness of his people and the good of his
country. Often and often he looked anxiously across the blue
sea to the shores of France, watching for the white sails of
Duke William's ships.
Months passed, and still they did not appear. But Harold
knew that one day they would come although William sent no
more messages. Harold's friends crossed the sea to find out
what the great duke was doing. They brought back news of the
mighty army which was gathering on the shores of the river
Dive. So Harold watched and waited, and he too gathered
together men and horses, swords and armour.
Often King Harold sighed to see that there were no
castles and fortresses to guard the shores of his dear land.
For Edward, instead of building ships and castles to keep
the country safe from enemies, had spent his people's money
in building great churches, and in buying the bones of holy
men who had lived and died long, long ago. These bones, he
foolishly thought, would keep wicked men away from his
One day while Harold watched and waited for the coming of
William, a messenger all breathless arrived from the north.
He was covered with dust and worn and tired with long
travelling. He burst into the room, where the King sat, and
threw himself on his knees. "My lord and King," he cried,
"Tostig, thy brother, and Harold Hardrada, King of Norway,
have landed in the north with a mighty army of heathen folk.
They have defeated Earl Morcar. They have taken York. They
slay and burn without mercy. Through fear, many of thy
subjects have joined the banner of Tostig. Now they are
making ready to march south to take London, and Harold
Hardrada of Norway will be master of all England."
Then the messenger was silent, fainting for weariness and
lack of food.
This news made Harold very sorry. Tostig was his brother,
and he did not wish to fight against his own brother, but
for the sake of England he knew he must. For Harold loved
England better than all the world. It is said that, after he
was dead, people found the word "England" printed on his
breast just over his heart, but whether that is true or not,
this is true, that Harold held England in his heart and in
his thoughts, and always tried to do what was best for his
So now Harold gathered all his own soldiers or huscarles as
they were called, and set out for Yorkshire to meet the
 At this time England had not a great army, as it has now,
ready at all times for battle. The king only kept a few
soldiers always near him. They were called his "huscarles" or
his "body guard," as their duty was to guard his house
when he was at home and his person wherever he went.
The rest of the soldiers were the servants of the great
nobles and rich merchants. Whenever the king had need of
them, he used to call them together, and when the fighting
was over they went back again to their own homes, and to
their own masters.
Harold had called these men together to be ready for
William, but as months passed and the dreadful duke did not
come, they grew tired of waiting and went home. For by this
time it was autumn, the fields were yellow with the ripe
grain, and the orchards were laden with fruit, so the men
who had come to fight went home again to gather the fruit
and cut the corn before the winter set in.
But hardly had they gone, when the messenger came with the
terrible news from Yorkshire.
Harold did not stop to gather his army together again, but
set out as quickly as he could with the few soldiers he had.
As he rode northward, he looked back with many a sigh. He
looked across the blue waters which separated him from Duke
William, straining his eyes anxiously, but there was no sign
of a sail. "Please God," he murmured, "I may yet return in
time to meet the Norman wolf."
In those days, the roads were very bad. Some of them were
only tracks worn by the feet of horses. There was no means,
either, of going from place to place, except by walking or
riding. But there was one great road,
 which the Romans had
made long, long before. This stretched all the way from York
to London. Harold was so clever that in a few days he
brought his little army along this road from the very south
to the middle of England. By 24th September he had arrived
at York. On the 25th a great battle was fought at a place
near there, called Stamford Bridge. In memory of that great
fight it was afterwards called Battle Bridge.
Before the fighting began, the two armies stood facing each
Up and down the lines of the Norwegian army rode a very tall
man on a lovely black horse. He was dressed in splendid
steel armour, and a beautiful blue cloak hung from his
shoulders. As he rode, his horse stumbled and fell, and the
tall man was thrown to the ground. He sprang up again with a
laugh. "Oh!" he said, "a fall means good luck to a
But Harold, who had been watching, turned to some one beside
him. "Who is that tall man with the blue cloak and beautiful
helmet?" he asked.
"That is Harold Hardrada, King of Norway," was the reply.
"He has had a fall," said Harold of England. "That means bad
luck to him."
One side, you see, thought it was good luck, and the other
thought it was bad, although really, of course, it made no
difference one way or another. But, in those days, people
were very superstitious, that is, they found a meaning in
things that had no meaning at all.
Harold of England looked sadly along the lines of the army
opposite. He was looking for the banner of his brother
Tostig. When he saw it he rode, almost alone, right up to
the Norwegian army. His men looked on in surprise and fear
as he rode so near the enemy,
 attended only by a few
knights. When he was quite close to them, he stopped his
horse, and called out, "Is Earl Tostig, son of Godwin, in
Tostig himself answered, "Yes, what want you with him?" and
he rode out to meet the king.
Although Tostig's face was hidden by his helmet, King Harold
knew his brother's voice. So his tone was kind and gentle,
as he answered: "Your brother, King Harold, sends you
greeting. He does not wish to fight against you. If you will
send away these soldiers, he will forgive you all the wrong
you have done, and he will give you the earldom of
Northumbria once more."
"And if I accept his offer," said Tostig, "what will he give
to my friend Harold Hardrada?"
King Harold's voice grew stern as he answered, "He shall
have seven feet of English ground for a grave, or a little
more perhaps, as he is so much taller than other men."
"Then," said the earl, "go and tell King Harold to get ready
for battle, for it shall never be said that Tostig brought
his friend to England to betray him."
Then the brothers parted, sad and angry, each riding back to
his own side.
"Who was that fine man with whom you have been speaking?" asked
Harold Hardrada, as Tostig came back.
"That was King Harold of England," replied the earl.
"Why did you not tell me?" said the king. "He was so near!
So near death, for had I known who he was, he would never
have gone back to his own people."
But although Tostig was a wild, wicked man, he was not
altogether bad. He looked sadly at King Harold
 Hardrada and
said, "He came to offer me peace and forgiveness. He is my
brother, though my enemy. Had I betrayed him to you, I
should have been not only his foe, but his murderer."
Then it seemed as if Harold Hardrada was ashamed.
Soon the battle began. Harold Hardrada rode in front singing
a loud battle song.
No helmets glance,
But blue swords play
In our array.
No mail coats glance
But hearts are here
That ne'er knew fear."
He sang that because these Northmen, as they were called,
often fought in their shirts and wore no armour or protection
of any kind. So they got the name of "Berserkers," and in
Scotland to this day the work "sark" is used to mean shirt.
The fight was fierce and long. Sometimes it seemed as if the
English would win, sometimes the Northmen. In the very
thickest of the fight rode the two kings, each cheering on
"When battle storm was ringing,
Where arrow cloud was singing,
Harold stood there,
Of armour bare,
His deadly sword still swinging.
The foemen felt its bite;
His horsemen rush to fight,
Danger to share
With Harold there,
Where steel on steel was ringing."
But at last both Earl Tostig and King Harold Hardrada were
killed, and their soldiers fled in all directions.
King Harold of England was very kind to those who were not
killed. He did not take them prisoners, but allowed them to
go away with their ships to their own country, having first
made them promise never to fight against England again.
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